The Denver March Powwow did not take place this year due to COVID-19. Photo: PepéBob ChuckPants

Tim Giago: An ex-Marine and his Sicangu wife

Notes from Indian Country
An ex-Marine and his Sicangu wife

Charlie Baca was an ex-Marine. He served honorably in Vietnam. After he came home he met Helen Felix, a lady from Rosebud and my very best advertising sales person at Indian Country Today, the newspaper I owned back then.

With Charlie and Helen it was love at first sight. They got married in the newsroom of the newspaper and I gave Helen away. Charlie Baca was proud of his time in the Marine Corps.

One time I sent him and Helen to set up a booth at the Denver March Powwow. Between the two of them they made it the most financially successful time we ever had a booth there. It worked so well because Charlie was like a carnival barker. And Helen was just as enthusiastic. Charlie put on a vest with his Marine Corps badge on it and even pinned his medals to it. He would get out in front of the booth, catch powwow attendees passing by and regale them about the quality of our newspaper, handing out free papers. And when they got back to Rapid City they had a list of 120 new subscribers they had signed up.

Tim Giago. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

That proud ex-Marine discovered that his long stay in Vietnam had been a dangerous one. He came down with a case of cancer caused by a chemical called Agent Orange. The U. S. Government was spraying it on the jungles to kill off the foliage therefore making it more difficult for the Viet Cong to find shelter. At least that was the theory. Charlie said that there were times when they were out on patrol and planes would fly over spraying Agent Orange all around them. He said that sometimes his fatigues were wet with it.

One winter we decided to do a tabloid newspaper we would call “Hitting the Powwow Circuit.” I put Helen in charge of it. She got lists of every powwow in the United States that she could find and then got on the phone and started selling. Helen loved talking to her customers. She always mixed in a little of the Lakota language when she was selling. One customer who advertised his powwow said he was sold when she talked to him in Lakota even though he couldn’t understand what she said. It was just the thrill of hearing a Native language that sold him.

The powwow circuit tab we put out in early spring was 60 pages thick and was more than 80 percent advertising thanks to Helen. She even helped our staff writers learn about some of the intricacies of the different dances. And so we had a tab that for the first time explained the meaning of the traditional and more modern dances.

In the meantime Charlie was fighting his biggest battle against the Agent Orange caused cancer. He even had to fight the Veterans Administration because they refused to admit that this Agent had caused the cancer. But Charlie wasn’t the only one. The chemical caused cancer began to pop up all over the U. S. among veterans of Vietnam.

It was a battle he eventually lost. Helen was devastated by the loss. She continued to work at the newspaper in order to keep her life going. But she was so sad and it changed her. And then she discovered she had an advanced case of diabetes. This disease that has decimated so many Native people took its toll on her. Like her husband Charlie, she put up a gallant fight but it was a fight she did not win.

Charlie and Helen Baca will forever be embedded in my thoughts. Two finer people I will never know. I pray that they finally joined hands again on their journey to the Spirit World. Hoka Hey, Helen, and Semper Fi, Charle.

Tim Giago can be contacted at

Note: Content © Tim Giago

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